By Michelle Sutherland
In the past three months, there have been as many as three murders and one non-fatal shooting in the quiet and usually peaceful town of Punta Gorda. The rise in these type of criminal and lawless behavior in the community have placed residents on edge and have prompted the Belize Police Department to go back to the drawing board to come up with a long-term solution in an effort to suppress criminal elements that have been running loose.
On Monday the Commissioner of Police (ComPol) Chester Williams admitted to the media that the recent surge of violence is a result of gang rivalry and that as a department these types of incidents are a concern for them. Williams said that when he met with his commanding officers on Monday he informed them of the changes that will be implemented as early as this week in Punta Gorda Town to curb the lawlessness.
”We need to ensure that as a department we put people in place who are going to fulfill the mandate of the department. When you look at the new Government strategy in fighting crime the plan Belize Agenda speaks a lot to the whole concept of community-oriented policing and so what we will be doing is to ensure that within the scope of what will be done in Punta Gorda Town, that it will encompass that aspect. It is not going to say that we will be soft on criminals because those persons who are part and parcels of the problem in Punta Gorda I can assure you that they are going to feel the full wrath of the police but the wider citizenry who are law-abiding and in compliant with us they are going to experience the softer side of police,” the Commissioner said.
A part of the Commissioner’s plan also included a visit to Punta Gorda town where he is scheduled to meet with residents to hear their concerns as well as to work on a solution. The Compol noted that as a department while it is their job to provide a level of citizen security to residents, it is also residents’ obligation to work alongside the police to ensure that together the situation could be addressed.
One senior Police source we spoke to told us that while investigators are still tying up loose ends in the previous murders to see whether they are connected, it is suspected that these murders are retaliation for previous murders in that municipality and is in an attempt to take over the drug trade in PG. According to that source, the murders are being planned in Belize City and executed in PG by suspects who stay overnight in the town, execute, and move out when the job is completed.
That source also suggested that the Punta Gorda Police Station is understaffed to police the entire district and that there is a need for more officers who would be able to police the town itself and others who would be able to police the neighboring villages. Another recommendation is to open a police station in one of the neighboring villages so that anyone coming into Punta Gorda Town could be monitored.
In his comments, the Compol told the media that one of his strategies is to also work alongside the Department of Youth Services to launch programs for at-risk youths and minors in an effort to keep them busy and out of the hands of seasoned criminals who use them to orchestrate crimes. ”It is not shocking to hear a minor committing a murder. That has been the norm if you look at most of our murders that we have had as of recent the perpetrators are always minors and that is the sad part because often time you would hear parents crying ‘oh da mi lee baby that da wa minor.’ Those are the ones that will look you straight in the eye and kill you. So as a department we are mindful of that as it does not mean that we will be harsh and rough with minors, but there are some of them that we need to come down hard on because of the fact that they have developed that criminal propensity,” commented Williams.